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  • Staff Photo by Grant Morris

  • Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim looks at a three-point attempt against UNC Asheville during the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Thursday, March 15, 2012. The Syracuse Orange defeated the University of North Carolina Asheville Bulldogs, 72-65. (Jaime Green/Wichita Eagle/MCT)
Saturday, March 24, 2012

Boeheim deflects off-court issues

Joe Marchilena

Coaches of any sport, at any level, hate distractions.

Jim Boeheim has had enough of them this season to last the longtime Syracuse men’s basketball coach a lifetime.

Twice, he’s lost his starting center to eligibility issues, including a ban that will last for however long the Orange remain in the NCAA Tournament.

A report released just before the start of the Big East Tournament accused the Syracuse program of failing to act when past players failed drug tests. Then, just before the start of the NCAA Tournament, Arne Duncan, the U.S. Secretary of Education, called out a handful of men’s basketball programs – including Syracuse – for having low graduation rates among players.

But perhaps at the top of the list was the news that broke at the beginning of the season, that Boeheim’s top assistant was allegedly involved in a child sex scandal.

Despite all this, all the Orange have done this season is win.

The players give all the credit to their coach.

“Coach has been the biggest part of it,” guard Scoop Jardine said. “He’s our leader. The way he’s handled everything on and off the court has helped us a lot because he’s our leader. He’s everything to us, and we go on how he’s acting.”

The reason Boeheim has been able to handle it as well as he has, at least in the public eye, is because he centers his attention on what he cares about most. According to his players, Boeheim is always focused on basketball, so much so at times that it could be frightening to the average person.

“Coach is a guru,” forward Kris Joseph said. “He knows everything. He has like the greatest memory. Something could happen in a game, he’ll remember the time, who had the ball, things like that.”

But in the long run, it only matters so much what Boeheim has on his mind. While he might be as focused as can be, it’s up to the players to execute what they’re being asked to do.

“I think the players have been focused on the season from the beginning,” Boeheim said. “Some of the stuff happened a hundred years ago, and some of it happened seven years ago, whenever it happened, and they’re not involved in it, so it’s not their concern.”

As far as Joseph is concerned, there are only three things he and his teammates should be thinking about while they’re at Syracuse – going to school, passing classes and playing basketball.

“It has nothing to do with us, so it doesn’t concern us,” he said. “I don’t go back home after games and watch ESPN. I listen to music, I call my mom, I call my brothers.”

If anything, the off-court issues have helped make the Orange more like a band of brothers.

“We try to keep positive,” guard Brandon Triche said. “It’s helped keep us together as a team.”

As a team, this group set a school record Thursday night with its win over Wisconsin, and it will have a chance to add one more to it Saturday night against Ohio State. To be in this position, despite the distractions, despite being down a key player, despite feeling like the world is against them, it’s just short of miraculous.

The Orange are at the doorstep of their first Final Four since 2003, but it doesn’t seem like the pressure is there with them. Not when a guy like Joseph, a senior looked to for leadership, considers a one-point win, in the Sweet 16, that went down to the buzzer, a lot of fun.

“This is supposed to be fun,” he said. “It’s just basketball.”

For Syracuse, right now, that’s all that matters.

Joe Marchilena can be reached at jmarchilena@nashuatelegraph.com or 594-6478.